Corrections was one of the fastest growing items in state budgets during the 1990's. It cost nearly $40 billion to imprison approximately two million state and local inmates in 2000, up from $5 billion in combined prison and jail expenditures in 1978. Twenty-four billion of that was spent on the incarceration of nonviolent offenders. The 1990's were witness to the largest prison population increase in U.S. history, prison populations have stretched state budgets extremely thin with our countries current economic disposition.
The massive growth in state prisoners over the past two decades continues to have a significant impact on state and local government expenditures. On average, corrections consumed 7 percent of state budgets in 2000. While state government officials may have felt they could afford prison population increases during the boom years of the 1990's, state budgets are now groaning under the weight of the recent recession compounded by the revenue loss associated with the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Despite significant corrections growth, the connection between prison population increases and crime reduction remains elusive. Some states around the country have already responded to the fiscal crisis with prison closures or downsizing. Confident that closing prisons will not pose any great risk to public safety, and struggling to fill the holes in their budget, some Governors in states have decided to close prisons. In the face of severe state budget shortfalls, there must be a plausible solution to help cutting costs without risking public safety.
The expansion of America's prisons has been largely driven by the incarceration of nonviolent offenders. The percentage of violent offenders held in state prisons has actually declined from 57 percent in 1978 to 48 percent in 1999. However, the prison and jail population has tripled over that period, from roughly 500,000 in 1978, to two...